Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Review: Booksmart

Cert: 15 / 102 mins / Dir. Olivia Wilde / Trailer

Now, it would be unfair to compare Olivia Wilde's directorial debut Booksmart with the 2008 comedy, Superbad from the off. That said, Booksmart is very much like Superbad from the off, so they started it.

Set in the present, we open on the day before high school graduation, in which best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) realise that in studying hard to pass their exams, they've missed out on a whole lot of fun - not least because many of their contemporaries have been partying all year and have still managed to achieve similarly impressive grades. With this in mind, the pair decide to attend the one end-of-year party that everyone will be at, including their prospective crushes, in a last hurrah before Summer and college-life beckon. But getting to the party will be an adventure in itself, as Molly and Amy discover the wild side of town that's been out every night while they've been studying...


Even without our heroines being hormonally charged, socially awkward misfits who attract misfortune as easily as they do ridicule and the party Macguffin lending a sense of foreboding impatience throughout, yeah this is largely Superbad. But given that Greg Mottola's coming-of-age bromance is very much near the top of a crowded pile of teen-comedies (and is now over a decade old, obviously), that's neither an unusual nor a bad thing. Writing the movie around young women rather than young men is a great chance to show that dorkiness and bad decision making are gender-blind, and the audience should be likewise.

However. With Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman all on screenplay duty, Booksmart is certainly a crowded and chaotic affair, often suffering the same haphazard focusing problems as any movie with a quartet of authors. As a result, it often feels like Olivia Wilde struggles with the full grip of a script this busy. This feels like it would be a director's second or even third film - that Wilde has produced this straight out of the gate shows her ambition and commitment, if nothing else.


Because Booksmart begins pretty much 'on 10', there's no time to really get to know the central characters before we're thrown in at the deep end of their lives. And as we're then finding our way with Molly and Amy, much of the first act seems like white noise as we try to get up to speed.

The script isn't as consistently funny as it would perhaps like to think, although it's frequently charming even when deliberately trying to rub the viewer up the wrong way. There's a constant battle between being an emotionally candid snapshot of teenage turbulence, and not wanting to let go of the gross-out fratboy comedy roots. The film is most enjoyable when it's speaking with its own voice.


Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever are that voice, their chemistry effortlessly selling the nonsense, bickering, sarcasm and upfront love between best friends of any age. They are very much the Seth and Evan of this piece. Although not to be upstaged, Billie Lourd has a borderline scene-stealing role as Gigi, a psychotic party animal who's to be found around every corner waiting to make things worse. And for my money, the animated sequence in the middle could have gone on for longer. I could feel the audience's nervous confusion in the room, and I loved that.

Booksmart is bigger than the indie-energy which runs through its veins and onto the screen with abrasive camaraderie, but it's nowhere near polished or accessible enough to be a breakout hit with its cinematic release. Hopefully this will find its audience once it hits disc/streaming, but even then it's more likely to be a cult-favourite at Logan Lucky levels, rather than The Big Lebowski.

But hey, some movies aren't built to be taken too seriously, that just happens around them. Go see Booksmart and just enjoy it for the haphazard ride...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
It's a bit like Superbad (I think we've covered that), with notes of Clerks and Mid90s.
Eighth Grade wishes it had this film's heartfelt adrenaline

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If you're in the right frame of mind, it is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Difficult to say, but it should be at the top of everyone's CV.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I expect so.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Lieutenant Connix is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a comment